The injury-struck Raiders used their strength in the post and held off Jacksonville Christian’s late push from the perimeter Saturday, winning their first-round game 59-53 in Jacksonville State University’s Pete Mathews Coliseum.
Led by forward Trey Phillips’ 20 points and 11 from Hunter Carr, Pleasant Valley (3-16) advanced to Wednesday’s 8:30 p.m. game against fourth-seeded Sacred Heart.
“Our kids have dealt with a lot of adversity this year,” Raiders coach Ronnie Preston said. “They’ve been fighting through it. They’ve kept their head up and stayed positive, and we’re looking for some momentum.”
Pleasant Valley has won two of its last three games.
The Raiders suffered setbacks earlier this season, losing starting point guard Daniel Faucett to a broken leg during the season game. Jacob Harrelson, a scoring forward, sustained a broken foot in the second week of December.
They had enough against JCA (7-10), with Phillips and center Dustin Andrews in the post. The two keyed Pleasant Valley’s 13-2 run to end the second quarter and built a 31-16 halftime lead.
“We did what we were supposed to do,” Phillips said. “We got it inside and pounded the boards.”
JCA played 2-3 zone much of the game, hoping to minimize Pleasant Valley’s edge in the post.
“We did want to keep them from going inside, high post and low post, and keep them from getting second shots on the boards,” JCA coach Scott Morgan said. “We just didn’t play them physical, and that was the plan was to try play physical, hold them back, keep them behind us and not let them get second shots, and we weren’t able to accomplish that in the first half.”
Phillips had 11 points at halftime.
“Trey is a beast,” Preston said. “A lot of the stuff we do, we try to go through him. Any time he gets it around the free-throw line, I’m happy, because I know he’s doing to do something with it.”
Carr opened the second-half scoring to swell Pleasant Valley’s run to 15-2 and give the Raiders their biggest lead, 33-16 but JCA outscored the Raiders 13-8 in the third quarter to pull within 39-29.
The Thunder started knocking down 3-pointers in the final four minutes. Daylon Brackett and Alex Jones, who tied for the team lead with 15 points each, did most of the damage to pull JCA within six points twice late.
“I didn’t want to go down,” said Brackett, who hit two long threes late. “This is the closest I’ve ever been since playing in this tournament.”
Sports columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, email@example.com. On Twitter @jmedley_star.